Staying the Course
At his press conference this morning, President Bush promised yet again that when it comes to Iraq, we'll continue to push on even though we're waist deep in the Big Muddy. Elsewhere in this morning's news we find some milestones of the course on which we are staying.
From the Washington Post:
The surveyors said they found a steady increase in mortality since the invasion, with a steeper rise in the last year that appears to reflect a worsening of violence as reported by the U.S. military, the news media and civilian groups. In the year ending in June, the team calculated Iraq's mortality rate to be roughly four times what it was the year before the war.
Of the total 655,000 estimated "excess deaths," 601,000 resulted from violence and the rest from disease and other causes, according to the study. This is about 500 unexpected violent deaths per day throughout the country.
The survey was done by Iraqi physicians and overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings are being published online today by the British medical journal the Lancet.
The same group in 2004 published an estimate of roughly 100,000 deaths in the first 18 months after the invasion. That figure was much higher than expected, and was controversial. The new study estimates that about 500,000 more Iraqis, both civilian and military, have died since then -- a finding likely to be equally controversial.
Both this and the earlier study are the only ones to estimate mortality in Iraq using scientific methods. The technique, called "cluster sampling," is used to estimate mortality in famines and after natural disasters.
While acknowledging that the estimate is large, the researchers believe it is sound for numerous reasons. The recent survey got the same estimate for immediate post-invasion deaths as the early survey, which gives the researchers confidence in the methods. The great majority of deaths were also substantiated by death certificates.
"We're very confident with the results," said Gilbert Burnham, a Johns Hopkins physician and epidemiologist.
For those whose prefer the barebones methodology of just relying on official government reports (an approach bound to underestimate the number killed), the Associated Press reports:
More than 2,660 Iraqi civilians were killed in [Baghdad] in September amid a wave of sectarian killings and insurgent attacks, an increase of 400 over the month before, according to figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry.
The report said 2,667 civilians had died violent deaths in September — an average of 89 a day. Those deaths include bodies found dumped around Baghdad and the victims of explosions, shootings and other attacks, the two officials said.
By comparison, 2,222 people died violently in August in Baghdad, according to a U.N. report published in September, which is also based on official statistics from the Health Ministry.
The two ministry officials said the U.N. number was accurate for the August deaths.
The past summer has seen a startling increase in bloodshed, centered in the capital, after the wave of sectarian violence was sparked by the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad.
The deadliest month was July, when 3,590 people were killed across the country — 2,884 of them in Baghdad, according to the U.N. The number killed countrywide fell in August to 3,009, the U.N. said.
The Health Ministry officials who spoke to the AP did not have September figures for the entire country, only for Baghdad.
And turning our attention to the well-being of American troops, we find:
The U.S. Army has plans to keep the current level of soldiers in Iraq through 2010, the top Army officer said Wednesday, a later date than any Bush administration or Pentagon officials have mentioned thus far.
Like the song says,
We're waist deep in the Big Muddy,
And the big fool says to push on.
(You can watch video of Pete Seeger's famous performance of "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on The Smothers Brothers Show here.)